Hearing Aids 101 – The How and History of Our Favorite Device

Every day, millions of Americans benefit from using hearing aids.  They help some of the estimated 37.5 million people with hearing loss hear the world more clearly, communicate more effectively and live life more fully. All of this with a device that can often fit neatly, undetectable to others, inside an ear canal.
Is it any wonder we are so in awe of the powerful little hearing aid?
Hearing aids have come a long way over the years, especially over the last couple of decades. The first electrical hearing aid came on the scene around the same time as the telephone in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. Less sophisticated devices to amplify sound were around for hundreds of years before that.
As our understanding of hearing and technology grew by leaps and bounds during the late twentieth century, hearing aids made the monumental transition from analog to digital.  This shift created faster, more effective and more user-friendly devices to improve hearing ability in a variety of everyday situations. Digital hearing aids by far revolutionized the hearing health industry, allowing for more personalized programming and a richer, more complete listening experience.
While today’s hearing aids come in a variety of styles with a wide range of features, the basic process of how they work to clearly and naturally amplify sound is essentially the same:

  1. The microphone in the hearing aid picks up the sound and creates a digital code (a series of numbers) for that sound. Unlike earlier analog versions of hearing aids, this code is better able to specify nuances such as pitch and tone to give the user a more comprehensive understanding of the sound, especially in conversation. How this sound is processed and coded depends upon the programming for your hearing aid. This programming can be fine-tuned by your hearing aid specialist, audiologist or other hearing health care provider during a hearing aid fitting to fit your lifestyle better. Often things like the directional ability and frequency settings of the hearing aid can be more personalized for your needs.
  2. Once the sounds are picked up by the microphone and translated into digital code, the coded sound is sent on to the amplifier to strengthen it. From here the stronger signal is transmitted to the speaker.
  3. As the final step, the speaker (also known as a loudspeaker) translates the digital code back into sound energy. Whether it’s the patter of rain on the roof, an intimate one-on-one conversation or a loud and fun-filled dinner party with friends, the sound energy is then sent to the inner ear to “hear.” Once it reaches the inner ear, it can be understood as the original sound by the brain.

Hearing aids, whether In-the-Canal, In-the-Ear, or Behind-the-Ear, basic or with a wide range of features, all rely on a small battery and the basic process above to help millions of Americans hear better every day.
It’s hard to argue the power of this simple digital device. If you have hearing loss and haven’t already worked with your hearing health care provider to find the best hearing aid for you, we can help. Contact us for more information.


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